| Article ~ "Follow my Car"
|Author's Note: I spent four years living in Los Angeles in the early seventies. The following
piece was written after being there for a while and obviously experiencing some culture shock...or maybe
just being in a state of shock.
-- C. C.
"FOLLOW MY CAR" -- Or -- "CRUISING ~ L.A. STYLE"
an L.A. Memoir by Cayle Chernin
Atmosphere has a lot to do with it - you know, vibes, the weather, energy levels:
You could be in Toronto, New York, London, wherever. But you're not. You're in L.A.
Los Angeles. Hollywood. California.
I came to Los Angeles from Toronto Canada, last May 1972. I came as a writer and an actress. I came
because there didn't seem to be a lot of writing and acting to do in Canada and because there was not
a lot of anything to do there on any level, for me. I came to L.A., because "That's where the action
is." I came to L.A. and sat a lot and drove a lot, before I began to figure out just exactly where
I had come to and just what exactly the action is.
You're sitting with friends in a favored (this month) restaurant watching all the ____'s go by
As the rheostat lighting go into its act - four o'clock bright sunshine slides easily into the
six o'clock shadow, eight o'clock twilight, ten o'clock street light dark against a backdrop of
billboard studded beautiful sky - the boards telling you which beer has class which new
group is doing it to Vegas. The establishments line the street like false fronts. You feel
like a character in a Hollywood movie, on location Sunset Strip. ("Incredible - really captures
the feeling of Hollywood").
It's getting late in the evening and suddenly you realize the profound difference: You're in L.A., not
Toronto, New York, or London; you're at a restaurant in L.A., eating, watching, talking, relaxing... no...
you're...you are cruising.
And even if you're not, the person sitting next to you probably is. He's probably just made a remark
about a blond sixteen-year-old-looking "chick" (lot of chicks in L.A.) who's making a big display of
playing with her gigantic puppy dog just outside and very visible through the glass front door of the
café, because the dog, was refused admittance to the restaurant. Potential sympathizers rear their heads
in all corners of the place.
Who gets to the girl and her dog first will be decided in the next moment or so. The prize will go
not to Mr. Right (We know he's dead, thank God) but to Mr. Quick. Mr. Eager. Mr. Hasn't
Got Anything Better Going On At The Moment. And sure enough he makes his move, a young, pretty,
but not too pretty, blue jean, denim jacket dude who strolls casually the length of the restaurant
clutching in his cooled-out hand, a piece of hamburger meat, the house specialty, an introductory offer
for the...for the dog, of course. All eyes turn away from the door. One down.
Your actor friend is now summing up his career possibilities for the tenth time this evening and though
rather bored with it all, you actually welcome a change of pace from a girl and her dog type
dialogue, which threatened to monopolize the evening.
Your girl friend, who has had past relationships with three out of the four guys at the table, is in
a state of deep depression. She's trying desperately to avoid that fourth guy who obviously knows about
the other three and figures it's his turn. She's trying to avoid him and she's also trying to decide
on whether or not she should give him a chance. After all, the night is getting old and what the hell's
the difference and why not and why and...
A very pretty young native Los Angelino (a rarity, you meet very few natives here in the
Transient Hills of Hollywood) is making frantic phone calls every five minutes to try to round up
some Quaaludes (downs to get up on) and alternately hugging and kissing all her guy
friends, table hopping with hysterical consistency.
"And yes, everyone is going to the screening tomorrow ...he's a damn good director... oh yeah, you see
his last fiasco?Sure, he was trying to go commercial... is that what it was... I hardly pay to go to movies
anymore. Hell, why pay... but why at noon, weather's so great I thought I'd go to the beach ... Listen,
I read for that schmuck two years ago. Wouldn't give me the time of day. I'll go to the beach with you.
Not about to waste my time on his shit ... you shouldn't talk like that, old Sour
Grapes-didn't-get-the-part... Bullshit, the man's a total lame filmmaker...Hey I lived with the guy last
year right before he got married again. That's my ex-old man you're shitting on...So, everyone's going
to the screening tomorrow... Fantastic".
Post-screening dialogue can be left up to your imagination, and a few clues:
"What did I tell you? I read for the schmuck two years ago".
"Total lame filmmaker."
"Great screening room."
"Why's she crying? Couldn't be the flick."
"He was her ex-old man. Don't be so goddamn insensitive."
"Hey man, we all shoulda gone to the beach."
Screenings are an integral part of the scene and attract many different factions: there is the - "absolutely adored it, he's brilliant, an innovator, a genius - we simply have to tell you we think you're brilliant and can we rap down our idea for your next project" contingent. Whatever business heads are operating here you can also be sure of a fuck or two emanating from this reaction. Then there is the "It's a piece of shit" reaction, already discussed and thirdly there seems to be another set entirely. They can be seen at almost every screening in town and invariably they have no opinion, no reaction, but they all look fairly terrific and seem none the worse for the wear and tear of all those screening room hours. They are simply there. Afterwards, either in groups or couples they go out to eat and it's very unlikely that anything related to the film just viewed will be discussed, except perhaps the lead actor's bedside manner.
Screenings can be as cruisy as a local bar. They are useful for locals looking around or filling in hours that come when there's nothing to see yet or you haven't been seen. Screenings are hope and sometimes, you even get off on the movie and that starts the irritating process of analyzing why you've fallen into this peculiar lifestyle: this hip, casual, L.A. sophisticated bullshit number. Because, for that moment you connect with feelings, the picture has stirred your cool and you start to wonder just what the hell is, has happened to you. And you start to wonder about L.A. Because you didn't fall into this pattern in Toronto or New York or anywhere else. In those places, you didn't find yourself - looking for a fuck.
Los Angeles is in many ways an easy place to come to. Life is easy here. It's not exorbitant like New York. People are incredibly helpful. Perhaps because, like you, everyone seems to have come here from some other place and they've been where you are now. They've come from places where there's not a lot happening, they've come to where the action is. They've come looking. And somehow, they're still looking, regardless of what they might have found. There's always something left to look for here - if not something, then someone- the one some one.
What separates your particular looking from their more seasoned version is...is hard to define: So many of them seem wasted by their effort; so many seem bored; and though they're all looking you get the impression that they are never really looking with the investment or commitment to actually finding anything.
Exploration abounds here. Scenes are everywhere. Everything conceivable is happening here. Make your choice: there are people somewhere in L.A. doing that same trip, whatever it is.
Whether you want to Gestalt your way through the next few months, primal, analyze, blank out, orgyize, commune-ize, beach it, meditate on it, deviate from it, film it, trip out or freak out ... it's all L.A.
You're depressed. You find yourself back at the hangout trying to communicate all this to a close friend of six days. After all, you and this friend have been inseparable since you met through another mutual close friend (at a screening?). And six days is a long time in L.A. The days are long here. The nights longer still. And in those long days and nights it seems that a lot can happen because there's so much time when nothing happens at all.
So you're communicating with your friend about how shitty you feel about yourself and she's nodding and you both decide you're tired of looking for a fuck, tired of fucking altogether. You find out that you have both had your worst mornings after right here in L.A. Nowhere else, it seems to you collectively have you ever suffered the total ignominy that accompanies The Fast Fuck when morning light takes each of you to your job, an interview, a doctor's appointment or whatever activity (you usually can plan only one due to the spread out geography of the city) you have that day. You and he pull out of the driveway together, in your separate cars, just as you arrived. You probably have no particular desire to ever see him again, but you're having trouble dealing with the gnawing realization that he feels much the same way. Ego? Not really.
Your girlfriend suggests that maybe it has to do with the meaninglessness of what the night before really was, suddenly confronting you in the form of your two separate and incompatible vehicles. You agree. Even when you just fucked in other places, just a moment with somebody that you both knew was just that, it didn't have the casual cool of that morning-after-distance that happens so often under the hot California sun. Your girlfriend tells you that in the two years she's been here she's lived with five different men for short periods of time. You express amazement. You can't imagine getting that far into a relationship here that you'd actually be living with someone. Your friend laughs. She clarifies, saying that she's never before, anywhere else so casually entered into living-together situations with men. You begin to see the connection. You begin to understand all the allusions to exes - old men and ladies, because you know so few people who are together, unless they've been together, probably married for years, and came out to L.A. as a couple.
You're glad you're sharing these feelings finally, you've been hurting for some sort of corroboration and you find yourself saddened by the knowledge that you have just spent an enormous amount of time and feeling talking about the meaninglessness of non-relationships, until the important question becomes: "Why is this so meaningless? Again?"
Someone comes to your table, (as you and your friend grin at each other through slightly embarrassed tears) and tells you they have just located another very close mutual friend. Good news. This friend had moved her living quarters for the fourth time this month and you haven't been able to find her and you've been staying with friends because your old place changed hands and the new landlord is into renting only to gay guys, so your friend hasn't been able to find you either: "She's been living in the Valley and hardly gets into Hollywood at all because her car died two weeks ago."
Without a car in Los Angeles you might as well be dead. Not having a roof over your head to call your own is no big deal here, but if you're car-less, forget it. You really feel bad for your friend out in the Valley and call her immediately. She's "really alright" and she's now living blissfully with the guy she used to be with before, the guy she was with the last time you saw her. You make plans to see each other as soon as possible. You hope she really is happy.
You also wonder if the guy she was with the last time you saw her is now available, because he was sort of interesting. Then you realize that's stupid because everyone's available, for one night anyway, and you just finished saying, not fifteen minutes before that you're tired of one night anyway, but you don't totally eliminate the possibility and that makes you feel worse about it all. The endless possibilities here have a decided effect of making it even worse. You're beginning to wish you were in Idaho. Idaho? Well, somewhere where the possibilities weren't so endless and where there might conceivably be a possibility. Or even in New York or back in Canada, where, sure, guys were out to just fuck you, but at least they invited you to lunch first, at least you got to know each other a little, took some time with each other. Here you sit around for five hours with someone, find yourself in bed with them five hours later and sometimes find classically that you don't even know his last name and that it doesn't really seem important or maybe he's a Movie Star and you know lots about him except that you don't know him at all and he sure as hell doesn't know you.
I came from Canada determined not to let Stars get into my eyes - stars that obscure people; dressing-room-door-stars; movie-magazine-stars: The Celebrity-Fucker-Syndrome which is not unrelated to the "You love me for my money" Rich-Man-Syndrome. I found myself being more concerned about the discomfort and paranoia of some Movie Star who was out to fuck me than for me getting fucked - Fame Pain - Hollywood's own peculiar mark of Cain. The Stars are Lookers too - they're in the bars, restaurants, canyons and cars - L.A. tripping, just like the almost-stars, potential stars, hustlers and has-beens. The Stars are looking too for that some one soul mate who will make it all, all right. They are used and they abuse.
Then, there's the Pick Up Conversation that you're positive could only happen in L.A.:
"You're a far out chick," he says, sotto voce. "I knew you weren't just an actress...man, some of those chicks are so fucking dumb. Man, I can't see wasting my time, you dig?" He's an actor. Just an actor. But, he'd like to "get into directing ... no shit," like his agent's "Who's your agent? Just curious, they're all full of shit anyway ... agents. Man, they suck got him up for "three major flicks, heavyweight roles, no shit. Man, it's Star-time"... Not that he "gives a shit about all that Star shit, but you gotta flow with the scene, star shit and all.
He tells you he's really "a damn good fucking actor" and he wants to know has he "seen" you in anything and "who'd you say your agent was?"
You find yourself slightly fascinated because you're beginning to wonder if he is coming on to you or whether he just wants to talk... about himself. But then he winks at you and you get that flash of recognition: Yes, it is a come on... oh God, how do you get out of this one? Besides, his friend's not bad at all. He's been staring at you and he's smirking and the smirk looks familiar like maybe you've met before or maybe he was on television last week and that's why he's smirking or maybe... and hope rears it's ugly head once again... maybe... and you're lonely and you feel particularly empty and he's got a cute smirk and maybe...
And he is cute. Come to think of it, they're all cute.
You're in Physical U.S.A. Everybody emanates physicalness. I mean, they are all so aware of their tanned, tight bodies. Take this guy who's still smirking at you, and now reaches over to move a strand of your hair gently out of your eye, breathing a little on your neck, as he does so. You figure he either saw it in a movie (you know you did) or did it in a movie or maybe ... maybe... And all the while he's so sure he's looking good, you're not about to argue. You stare into each other's eyes (corny, but slightly thrilling). The type who is up for three major flicks is starting to move away. He's beginning to get the idea he didn't score and time is a wastin'. Eye to eye. Size each other up. Sending out positive vibrations. He moves into the space beside you vacated by the potential Star. He's tanned and slender and he is looking good. You feel fat. And you're actually saying to him: "I feel fat." He smirks and mumbles something sexily under his breath that could be that he finds you "earthy...sexy," in fact, there's a producer he'd really like to turn you on to, who's looking for someone just like you. "Looking for someone fat?" you say, finding it increasingly difficult to hold the eye contact. He does a double-wammy smirk designed to incite instant orgasm and the best you can manage is a grim acknowledgement for his effort, and a guilty (you actually feel guilty that you're not in the least interested, even though you know he's just doing a number) "Scuse me, I have to ... my cat... I mean ... well, I really have to be calling my agen,t" and you don't know why you couldn't have just said "not interested" or just walked away.
Oh well, you try not to be too hard on yourself. At least you didn't let it go any further. Chalk it up to your growing feeling of L.A. disasters being visited on your confused consciousness.
Confusion: Fastest entrances and exits in the world. You get into and (often thankfully) out of a person in minutes, and you're left as before, dangling on some wobbly pathetic attempt at constructing foundations (every five minutes) and you marvel at the fact that you've never seemed this hungry before. And you remember a line someone said in a conversation you remember vaguely: "Some people always have to look around." You know you don't really want to be looking around, but you do and you see that everyone around you is also looking around and the why of it all seems somehow inherent in this place, this city L.A.
You've become an L.A. Looker, assembled your own cast of victims and getting off is the order of the day.
It's indicative that in a place where ambition is the raison d'être, I became increasingly incapable of hustling my own work. Shortly after arriving in L.A., I stopped saying I was an actress, certainly not a great career move. I found the response humiliating, condescending or worse -distrustful: the cover that slides down over the eyes of some producer or director I'd just been chatting pleasantly with; the moment when, I became a starlet of sorts. At least being a writer seemed to enable me to come closer to being viewed as a person. So I became just a writer.
While women here can and are politicizing within the film industry, the painful struggle to relate human being to human being, that person to person contact that lies at the core of The Movement, seems to have less than a fighting chance in L.A. It is heightened and made even more elusive by the unique level of interrelating that has as its consciousness, a reinforcement of this particular lifestyle that is the essence of the Fuck Over: men and women continually victimizing each other, cruising each other, a search whose logic can only be defined as some bizarre version of romance where everyone becomes Just a fuck. It goes beyond politics, beyond injustice. It goes ... beyond...
What it is. L.A. Home of transients. Many people passing in, out and through."Guess who's in town?" A new diversion. A new face. Everybody on limited time. New York actors are plentiful here. They've come to where the work is, the bread, the opportunity, but they still call themselves New York Actors and they long for New York, for home.
You can set your own pace, but the city insidiously seems to undermine, the sun is shining, lethargy sets in invariably between interviews, bouts with your typewriter, calls from your agent and I was told when I first got to Los Angeles that I shouldn't try to do too much in one day -
an interview, coffee with a friend, a film to see. That can be a lot of driving for one day and yet and that's somehow the epitome of the insidious quality of the city. Fed up as you are with getting in and out of the car, you almost never walk anywhere - not to the corner grocery store, not to pick up your cleaning or to a restaurant that's maybe three blocks away. You develop a bizarre need to drive wherever you're going.
There's a lot of excess energy crying for an outlet here and that outlet so often seems to manifest itself in rampant sexuality - beautiful people beautifying themselves constantly for confrontations with each other that ultimately revolve around transportation arrangements:
Romantic moment: Standing in the parking lot having decided his place or yours - if you're in the Flatlands and he's in the Canyon, he's probably got a better place - or if he's crashing with friends and you've got your own place or...
Standing in the parking lot:
"Hey, I love your car."
"What happened to your front fender?"
A little more getting acquainted car talk and you lean up against his or your car, exchange a little passion, each jump behind your separate but mutually admired wheels and proceed to the rendezvous. And that's part of it too.
Pulling up alongside each other at stop signs; waving coyly as the traffic light turns green; trying to have a conversation through your passenger side window and his driver-side window, as the driver behind is honking you on your way.
And there's always the possibility of stirring up those nasty little doubts while cooling out en route: The Strip is crowded and he waves at some tall freaky looking girl and you think maybe he'd rather be with her or it crosses your mind that if you don't make it home soon, you may both have lost the initial thrust or decide you don't really know each other well enough because he seems to be driving with some interesting though (you can't help feeling) slightly offensive characteristic, like manipulating the steering wheel with his pinkie finger... and... and... DO YOU REALLY WANT TO DO THIS THING? Again? Really?
And is it you? You really wonder how it all came to pass? You're behaving like everybody else, driving along beside a car you really don't know in pursuit of a one-night co-habitation that you really don't want. You've become:
People so busy trying to touch, touching physically, some sort of weird masturbatory reaching out. Preoccupied with their own physiques, only occupied by your physique, peculiarly spaced-out head wise on a drug much more lethal than grass or cocaine or acid could ever be - the drugged state of living in vast, gaping spaces that stretch out under endless sun from dream to shining dream.
Where the action is. Everybody wants a piece of the action and if that is held in abeyance (only temporarily of course ... keep on dreaming) then everybody settles (only temporarily, of course) for a piece of each other: touch quickly, get-it-over-with, try-it-on-for-size - end the long day with something that resembles activity and once again you find in HOLLYWOOD, unlike The Hollywood Movie that brought all the transient dreamers here in the first place, that in spite of the talents residing here pouring out produce that at its best can and does inspire, elate, create truth and beauty - movies are better than ever, you find some of the emptiest, most uninspiring realities to deal with and from, one less fulfilling that the last.
It's a trip! It's all here, the action, but the participants, the creators of the Scenes - which do far better on celluloid than they do in person.
And the beautiful love scenes are few and too far between all the other crap we lay on each other daily, acting out of our trippy L.A. consciousness.
Home of the Fast Flying Fuck.
The brutality of the sexes isn't confined to Los Angeles but it sure is particularly brutal here.
The nature of the beast. Where everything... geography, climate, opportunity - winners and losers on every corner, seems to result in the ultimate "cruise-style living". And everybody somehow gets shortchanged, everybody seems to get had here, whether today you're The Fucker or tomorrow you get fucked. It's Cock and Cunt morality and the depersonalization, the physicalization, the disconnection implicit in such a morality, makes losers of us all.
The only fleshed out reality that exists here seems to be confined to the vision of its artists as they elevate on the screen, create life on camera, edit the moments and spend the time between their creative bouts attempting to crush the weird boredom if that's what the spaciness is of this place with the much less meaningful, much emptier, vacant application of their on-hiatus imagery, the tricks of the trade.
Whether Dreamers or Achievers, all are somehow trapped in the mysterious vacuum of the great L.A. discrepancy: The romance of creation, of expressing a vision, of making a fortune, finding the fame, takes place in a town, has created a town, where the sense of wonder of the product and its execution bears no similarity to the lives of its inhabitants. A place where the hip, cooled-out hope of the young rides along bumper to bumper with the steadfast, ever-anticipation of the old. Winners and losers on every corner. People like me, who all came looking but didn't expect to lose sight of seeing.
- 30 -